New to leadership this term?

My last blog post explored the forming of relationships with new classes, particularly for beginning teachers, and whether the advice not to smile until Christmas was appropriate and helpful.  My conclusion was: “You can be friendly without being their friend, and if pupils do like you that should be a by-product of your successful teaching of them, not a driver.”

As I wrote the post, it occurred to me that those new to a leadership role also need to consider the development of relationships with those they now lead. Do some of the same principles apply?  Do leaders, like teachers, need to establish themselves with a degree of firmness and assertiveness in the early weeks and months, bearing in mind that effective leaders will support their teams but may also be called upon to hold them to account?  Over-friendliness and informality might make this more challenging.  Is it true to say, of new leaders: “You can be friendly without being their friend, and if those you lead like you, that should be a by-product of your positive working relationship with them, not a driver”?

The following five pieces of advice may be of use to those new to a leadership role this term – whether they have stepped into a Middle Leader role, heading up a department, subject area or pastoral team; whether they have made the transition from Middle Leadership with responsibility for a smaller and clearly defined domain to Senior Leadership with a whole-school brief; or whether they have made the leap into headship.

  1.  In the early weeks and months of a new leadership role you will, inevitably, have much to learn, even if you are internally promoted and so already know something of the school and the team.  Being a leader will require you to develop a different professional persona, as you now have specific additional responsibilities to navigate.  So consider how you can build the knowledge you need to lead effectively.  Ask more questions than delivering statements, listen carefully to the responses and ensure you develop your understanding of the systems you have stepped into, and of your team and how you can get the best from them, building their capacity and confidence over time.
  2. Communication is key – and it is tricky.  Beware of feeling that you have communicated something just because you have said it.  You need to gauge how well those you lead have listened, understood, retained and, if appropriate, acted on whatever you feel you have communicated.  Recognise that you may need to use multiple channels and give thought to how you can gather feedback which helps you to formulate a clear idea of how effectively communication is working among the team you lead.
  3. It is tempting as a new leader to show how capable you are with respect to solving problems and finding solutions – after all, you want to earn the respect of those you lead and show you were a good appointment!  But beware of falling into the trap of trying to resolve everyone else’s issues.  Recognise that strong leaders are those who support others to find and implement their own solutions – otherwise you can create a culture of dependency where the team you lead cannot cope in your absence.  If at some point in the future you do move on, you should leave the team you led stronger than you found it.
  4. Developing others also requires you to make use of well-judged and carefully thought out delegation. You are not the fount of all wisdom and ensuring that the ideas, strengths and skills of others are valued, utilised for the benefit of the team as a whole and nurtured and strengthened over time will require you not to hold the reins too tightly and risk being overly controlling.  It may be comforting to do so as you know you are responsible, but it is not the way to develop potential and grow those you lead.
  5. And you will, inevitably, make mistakes from time to time.  I often say that people do not usually expect their leaders to be infallible, but they DO expect them to be honest.  If something goes wrong, admit it, apologise, but show you have learnt from the experience and you will not go on to make the same mistake multiple times.  See this as an opportunity to strengthen your leadership skills and your resilience.

Leadership is challenging, stimulating, rewarding and energising. Establishing the most positive relationship with those you lead, communicating effectively and taking appropriate action can help you to establish a successful working dynamic.

Very best wishes with your ongoing leadership journey.

Photo credit: John Berry, with thanks to Richard Green and Lincoln Pro-Musica.

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